Whether or not a fan of Donald Trump and regardless of what he has or has not done while president, one clear observation is that he uses emotion and division to rally his troops and to create converts and unaware participants to his way of thinking. And for those that don't lean in, they become the target of the new divide. Examples can be read here and here and watched here and here. So what am I getting at? Where is the connection to veganism? What is a Trump Vegan and are you one? If you are vegan or driven by any other social or environmental justice issue, then being careful that your actions resolve issues and do not perpetuate them is challenging. Using Trump's model of divide and conquer isn't new. It is as old as patriarchy... and one might say connected. We, as people with immense power, wanting happiness, need to carefully review and change behaviors like this.
Activists (and not just vegans) have, at times, used similar patterns as Donald. Even though it may be motivated by a goal bigger than oneself, the tactics may be strikingly similar. I want to speak about activism designed to provoke a strong emotional response, in particular when the goal may be to entice the audience to step over a special line; the us vs. them line, or put differently, the Trump methodology of achieving your goals.
Division is not always intentional though groups tend to use it more than an individual might. A lone animal rights activist or feminist or what-have-you may be unaware of their own behavior (as we all are from time to time). Some may simply want a community that has similar views and so they go along. Either way, in the end, they may be blinded with care, with rage, with hurt, or with a confused attempt at compassion. Blind for many reasons, yet none-the-less, behaving in a way meant to draw a line between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Saying ‘those people’, ‘they’, and ‘you’, are all words when uttered in one of these conversations, can lose the humanity needed for effectiveness and replace it with fundamentalism and division. Examples of this may be found here, here, and a good explanation and response can be read here.
There is no such thing as a ‘Trump Vegan’, at least not by my definition but you can see why I put the words together. There are many concerned people, wanting change in the world, who knowingly or not, behave like D. Trump. I have been guilty of this. Most of us have. Especially when talking to people we care about. I’m asking if we are helping a cause by being blunt or by knowingly saying or showing something to ‘shock’ a person into seeing things the way you see them? Have you ever asked or told yourself that the goal justifies the actions? If so, then this text may be especially for you. If there were a Trump Vegan, it would be the person who thinks their point of view is the most important and who is willing to do what it takes to make you agree. They will get believers, undoubtedly. Yet they will also lose many along the way. And since we need everyone to improve if we plan to make these concerns a thing of past, then we need to motivate sustaining progress.
To Motivate or Manipulate:
More often than not, I hear passionate people tell me they want to figure out how to manipulate others into seeing their point of view. I quickly ask them if they would rather motivate and nearly all emphatically say yes*. To motivate means an individual feels driven by their own actions. Manipulating them takes away that power and when recognized by the subject, can lead to resentment or even disavowing something logical and perhaps in their best interests.**
Your feelings or passion are legitimate and please do not confuse my message with invalidation. I have sadness and rage inside myself about concerns and injustices I see daily. Previously, I used to have more rage. Conditions of the world outside my body haven’t improved so much as to explain why it has reduced. My increased acceptance of myself and the privileges that have allowed me to see (to some degree) broader than I did before, permit me to be more involved and less full of rage. This could be different for you but my life’s evidence has shown me that self-care and self-acceptance are critical for my happiness and the ability to support my causes and other living things. The shortlist below has helped in this process.
So how do you engage, push your agenda, even be fundamental in your passion (if that is how you see it), yet not behave fundamentally with your actions and divide the room? Like many things, it is both easy and not easy.
Here are some basic ideas that help:
If you don’t already, try to focus on the rewards (positive change) your actions may lead to. Only finding motivation from the perspective of the suffering will lead to burnout. Your improved attitude will have an impact on the other.
Remember that you are no better than anyone else. Most of what is written here is a reflection of this. So if you wish to save time then just make this a mantra and reinforce it by asking people about themselves.
You probably were not always as concerned about your cause as you are now. You are on a life long path of change and personal progress, as is your audience. Humility will remind you that yours is only one of many concerns (they may have their own), each of which can inspire a person to think it is critical and urgent, and it very well may be, but that rarely makes it more important than the cause you are yet to be as aware of or that someone else is passionate about.
The best student is the one that asks a question. Invite conversation, lead curiosity, and if your cause is rooted in logic, then it will stand a greater chance of being adopted. Humans respond well to kindness and even better when kindness is offered in response to a request/vulnerable moment (as in when they ask). We blossom with gratitude, friendliness, shared responsibility and so many more communal and effective actions and thoughts as a result of being gifted information rather than having it forced upon us. There is little we like more than the idea of free will.
Avoid speaking about or being critical of the individual you are engaged with. Nothing closes ears and minds faster than blame and guilt.
There is no perfect way to communicate. This is about playing the odds and using good intentions as your motivation. Some people will only be moved by aggression, suffering, or competition. Others through kindness, patience, and generosity. Ask yourself which you would prefer.
Don’t just treat others the way you would like to be treated. Treat them better, with as much empathy as you can muster. Their standards or expectations regarding empathy may be different than yours. Understanding this and being as kind as you know how will reduce this gap which exists between all of us. This will create a loop in your life that rewards and cares for you. Some call this karma. I think of it as cause and effect. Either way, it is true. Offering some sort of help, if applicable, is a good way to do this.
The easy part is understanding what I and others are saying, possibly agreeing with us, and setting goals for different behaviors that yield better longterm results. The hard part is enacting this when most aspects of our cultures actively endorse division. But you can do it. You won’t be the first and your kinder actions will ensure that you are not the last.
One Trump is probably all the world needs. Fundamentalism and division are dangerous and incomplete in their thinking and design. Please don’t confuse radical thought and radical action with these two terms. Many would consider being a supporter of civil rights, veganism, and environmentalism as radical. Without care, they can each be fundamental in their implementation and this is what I am speaking of. Be radical, be passionate, and most of all, be patient, kind, and accepting.
* I think the tendency to lead with manipulation is deeply subconscious and due to a culture of competition and the goal of winning.
** Ironically, many intense activists were at one time put off by another intense activist(s), delaying their involvement with their now passionate cause, and yet repeating the cycle of delay for the next person who responds in a similar fashion.
(I believe some passionate people will disagree with what I have written or will believe that their direct actions are justified. I am not saying that this is correct or incorrect. I'm trying to do the math of what is the most effective way to promote change and retain the results. Looking at the last 100 years or so, I see that the majority of social change on race, class, gender, and the environment came substantially from non-violent forms of activism. Even if each of these topics demand a lot of change that is still missing, I would not wish for Martin Luther King Jr. and so many others to not have done what they did. And I wish to emulate those actions because they 1) fulfill me and 2) have proven themselves effective over time. More violent actions have led to things like prosecuting activists under the same laws as terrorists (already the case in the US for many years and now being pushed in France). Social change requires a strategy that understands emotions and applies compassionate morality with the inclusion of all parties: human, non-human, and the natural world. If humans are the problem then they have to be part of the solution and their needs are many and nuanced, just like you and me.)